Friday, August 28, 2015

10 Years After Hurricane Katrina: Four New Books

It's hard to believe that it is already 10 years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans on August 29, 2005.  Katrina's impact on New Orleans and the people who lived there was catastrophic and later, during the rebuilding, it turned into a transformative expericnce for many.  But while the images of Katrina's devestation may still be seared into the minds of many of us, young readers probably have no memory of it at all.  There has already been a number of excellent books written about this storm to help them understand what happened and this year, there are a few new ones to add to the growing body of Hurricane Katrina literature:

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner, illustrated by John Parra
Chronicle Books, 2015, 44 pages (Age 5+)

Written in the spirit of good folklore and based on the life of an actual person, Cornelius Washington, Marvelous Cornelius is the story of a real New Orleans garbage collector.  Cornelius does his job with all the enthusiam and finesse of a dancer, greeting everyone as he goes along his route in tossing bags of garbage into the truck and keeping his part of the city clean as a whistle.  But when Hurricane Katrina buries his beloved city in all kinds of garbage, Cornelius makes it his mission to help clean it up.  And before he knows it, all this friends on his route, and even strangers from around the country are there to help bring New Orleans back to life with Cornelius.

Though based on Cornelius Washington, this is NOT a true story but rather a story about the kind of spirit New Orleans needed after Hurricane Katrina swept through leaving a wake of distraction and death.  The painted illustration carry the idea of folklore in style and the palette flat colors used.  Before the read the quote by Martin Luther King, Jr at the beginning of the book and Phil Bildner's Author's Note at the end.

Sadly, Cornelius Washington passed away in in 2008 at the age 48.

Finding Someplace by Denise Lewis Patrick
Henry Holt, 2015, 224 pages (Age 8+)

Living in the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, 12 year old Theresa Arielle Boone, or Ressie as her friends and family called her, can't wait for her 13th birthday on August 29, 2005.  She's made herself a beatiful skirt to wear, with matching shoes, thanks to an early birthday present from her older brother Junior.  Even after the mayor issues a mandatory evacuation noitice, and as her friends start to leave New Orleans with their families, Reesie stills holds on to hope of a celebration.  Her mother, a nurse, wants to leave, too, but ber father, a police officer, insists on remaining at home because of work,  Reesie is so excited, she ignores the warning words and weather reports of an oncoming hurricane that promises to be big.

On the evening before her birthday, Hurricane Katrina reaches New Orleans.  Reesie, home alone, goes over to pick up her birthday cake from an elderly neighbor, Miss Martine, known for her delicious coconut cakes.  As the storm picks up strenght, Reesie stays with Miss Martine who begins to tell her all about her illustrious past and gives Reesie a book of poetry she had written and published.  The next morning, stranded in rising waters and strong winds, a knock on the door brings the older brother of Reesie's best friend and his brand new wife.  Luckily, Dre is able to get the four of them up into the crawl space of Miss Martine's house and then, onto the roof, where a boat finally rescues them as the storm begins to let up.

As residents of New Orleans begin to realize that life as they had known it is gone, Reesie's mother whisks her away to New Jersey and away from her father.  Will she ever be able to return to New Orleans and everyone and everything she loves, including her father?

Finding Someplace is written in two partts, the first part covers the days before, during and right after Hurricane Katrina, the second part jumps to December 2005 and Reesie's life in New Jersey.  I didn't find the descriptions of the hurricane to be quite a harrowing as other novels I've read about about people stranded in New Orleans when it hit.  Even the roof rescue seemed to happen too quickly and easily, especially if you can remember those heartbreaking scenes of desperate people on their rooftops trying to get help.  What I did find poignant were the descriptions of the water destroying all the  memorabilia of people's lives, often the only things they owned of a beloved person.

But while I found the hurricane part lacking, I did like how Patrick dealth with the more long range aftermath of the storm and it's impact on Reesie's family.  That is something you don't see in too many of these stories.

I found Finding Someplace to be an interesting addition to the Hurrican Katrina body of literature that continues to grow.  For most of it's readers, Hurricane Katrina is history  and for that reason, it was nice that some of the chapters in Finding Someplace give the date and time to orient the reader, but I would have really liked a detailed Hurricane Katrina timeline to be able to refer to.  Going to the computer to check the chronology of the storm was really distracting.

Another Kind of Hurricane by Tamara Ellis Smith
Random House, 2015, 336 pages (Age 9+)

When Hurricane Katrina hits New Orleans, 10 year old Zavion and his father just barely excape from a second floor window in their home, jumping onto a door as the flood waters rise, destroying everything that he has known and loved his entire life.  But to add to that trauma, Zavion slips off the door into the oily, snake infested flood waters and almost drowns, a terrifying experience until his papa pulls him out.
Eventually, Zavion and papa get to Baton Rouge.  There, Zavion is given a bag of clothing, including a pair of jeans with a large marble in the pocket.  The marble becomes a kind of talisman for Zavion, who draws a particular kind of comfort from having it, as though it contains something magical.

Far away from New Orleans, in northern Vermont, Henry, also 10, is grappling with the accidental death of his best friend Wayne in a fall from a cliff on Mount Mansfield.  At his friend's funeral, Henry secretly removed a large marble from Wayne's coffin.  Slowly, through flashbacks, the importance of the marble is learned.  When Henry's mother donates the jeans with the marble in the pocket to Hurricane Katrina victims, Henry is compelled to travel to New Orleans with Wayne's father Jake, a long distance trucker, to find it.

Both boys are haunted by their own traumatic memories and suffering from PTSD, but eventually their stories converge, offering the possibility of healing and hope despite overwhelming grief.

The novel centers on the marble, almost like it is a point of gravity pulling Henry and Zavion closer to each other.  At the same time, Tamara Ellis Smith moves her diverse cast of characters around like a well thought out chess game as the marble moves closer and closer to its destiny.  This is Smith's debut novel.

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans written and illustrated by Don Brown
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015, 96 pages (Age 12+)

This graphic non-fiction book is probably one of the most powerful Hurricane Katrina works I've read as it chronicles the storm from its very beginning as a swirl leaving Africa to the rebuilding of New Orleans.  In a sense, this is a biography of Katrina, and how it impacted every aspect of life that most vulnerable city - residents, building, homes, levees and more.  The illustrations are raw but honest, done in pen and ink and digital paint in monochromatic shades of brown, black, gray during the storm, with more color is added in the aftermath, as the rains subsided.  Brown has captured not just the living, such as people on their rooftops hoping for rescue, and others crowded into the Superdome, but also the dead who were left in the flood waters for days.  There is a lot to be said about Hurricane Katrina, including issues of racism, indifference, ineptitude and opportunistic crime, but there are also acts of courage and unadulterated kindness and Brown does ends on a note of hope and rebuilding.  But he never whitewashes any part of what happened in on August 29, 2005.  Drowned City is a work not to be missed but it is also a work of heartbreaking truth.

Other books to help young readers understand and explore the impact of Hurricane Katrina:
A Penguin Named Patience: A Hurricane Katrina Rescue Story by Suzanne Lewis, illustrated by Lisa Anchin, Sleeping Bear Press, 2015, 32 Pages, age 4+

Eight Dolphins of Katrina: A True Tale of Survival by Janet Wyman Coleman, illustrated by Yan Nascimbene, HMH, 2013, 40 pages, age 5+

Two Bobbies by Kirby Larson (Bloomsbury, 2008, 32 pages, age 4+

A Place Where Hurricanes Happen by Renee Watson, illustrated by Shadra Strickland, Random House, 2014, 40 pages, age 5+

I Survived Hurricane Katrina, 2005 by Lauren Tarshis, illustrated by Scott Dawson, Scholastic, 2011, 112 pages, age 7+

Upside Down in the Middle of Nowhere by Julie T. Lamana, Chronicle Books, 2014, 320 pages, age 8+

Ninth Ward by Jewel Parker Rhodes, Little, Brown, 2010, 217 pages, age 10+

Saint Louis Armstrong Beach by Brenda Woods, Penguin, 2011, 144 pages age 10+

Zane and the Hurricane by Rodman Philbrick, Scholastic, 2014, 192 pages, age 10+


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